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September 9, 2004

Felten on Wikipedia

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Continuing the examination of the value of the Wikipedia, Ed Felten compares Wikipedia and Britannica

Overall verdict: Wikipedia’s advantage is in having more, longer, and more current entries. If it weren’t for the Microsoft-case entry, Wikipedia would have been the winner hands down. Britannica’s advantage is in having lower variance in the quality of its entries.

The thing I love about this post is that it turns the original complaint on its head. The Syracusan Critique is that the wikipedia can’t be good because it isn’t authoritative, which has a precursor assumption that Collin Brooke brilliantly glosses as “Authority/trustworthiness/reputation/credibility is something that pre-exists the research.” Falstodt the Syracusan presumes that if you cannot point to a pre-existing authority, the content itself is inherently less valuable (his phrase damning the Wikipedia is “without any credentials”.) Felten, by contrast, assumes that the value of content can be derived, rather than presumed, and begins by comparing individual articles, a process that cuts through trivial dismissals, and starts the real, and hard, work of talking about actual strengths and weaknesses.

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